The death warrant for the fossil-fuel industry was passed recently by Congress and signed by President Obama. Tax credits for wind power will be eliminated, despite incentives for fossil fuels being allowed to continue.

That seems unfair, and it is. But the value of a stable, long-term policy actually outweighs the benefits of an intermittent federal wind production tax credit (PTC).

Despite the wild, 90 percent, boom-and-bust annual swing in wind installations caused by the intermittent federal incentive, producers have reduced the cost of wind power by two-thirds over the past five years, resulting in electricity from wind now being competitive with any other new power plant.

Since the federal government has managed to kill the PTC by the end of the phaseout period, Congress will have no motivation to annually mess with the incentive, giving wind businesses a clear, long-term opportunity to invest in stable manufacturing, offer predictable jobs to wind installers and develop the infrastructure that will supply the lowest cost electricity to grid, even without the PTC. Wind power will be selected over subsidized fossil fuels based on cost alone. Our economy and our world’s future will both benefit.

John Dunlop, Minneapolis

The writer is a renewable-energy consultant.

POLLUTION

Toxic Substances Control Act needs a sensible update

One thing omitted under “unfinished business” in “What Congress did for — and to — you in 2015” (Dec. 20) was the historic passage of two bills to update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the federal law regulating industrial chemicals in the U.S. This law ties the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in reining in the toxic chemicals used in everyday consumer products. This month, the Senate passed a TSCA bill, following the House passage of a very different bill last June. Unfortunately, the Senate bill weakens the EPA’s ability to regulate imported articles, which will include many of the toys that children have unwrapped for Christmas. The Senate bill also pre-empts states from taking action on chemicals of concern when the EPA lists a chemical for assessment, while the House bill pre-empts state action when the EPA makes final determination on a chemical. The Senate bill would create a regulatory gap and tie the hands of states like Minnesota that have enacted laws to protect families from the unnecessary use of toxic chemicals. A conference committee soon will attempt to reconcile the two bills. I urge Congress to take the best of each bill and enact a strong TSCA that finally protects public health.

Kathleen Schuler, Minneapolis

 

HEALTH CARE

Drug discount program helps cancer patients

Getting diagnosed with cancer is devastating. Being unable to afford good medical care close to home it is worse. Luckily, every year thousands of Minneapolis-St. Paul residents get the help they need from a federal program they’ve never heard of: the 340B drug discount program.

Congress created the program in 1992 with bipartisan support to allow health providers that serve large numbers of low-income patients to receive discounted medications from drug companies. In turn, these safety-net hospitals and clinics supply low-cost or no-cost medicines to the community. The program also helps fund diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer, dental and primary-care clinics.

In my work as an oncologist at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), I see the good the 340B program does every day. Almost half of our patients are on Medicare or Medicaid or are uninsured. If a patient can’t afford chemo, we cover the cost. Savings from our 340B program also help us fund HCMC community health workers, nutrition programs and our diabetes outreach program.

Critics in Washington want to derail the 340B program by limiting hospital and patient eligibility. That would result in reduced medication access and services for the needy.

The 340B program helps shield safety-net hospitals and their neediest patients from soaring drug prices and helps fund essential clinical services. It is a key part of caring for our most vulnerable oncology patients.

Dr. Andres Wiernik, Minneapolis

 

ANIMAL WELFARE

Food-service companies take meaningful steps

The pledges by three major U.S. food-service companies — Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Peet’s Coffee — to use only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2020 amount to an animal welfare hat-trick.

But it doesn’t stop there: The retailers also announced plans to collaborate with the American Humane Association to make other meaningful improvements to animal-welfare policies throughout their supply chains. Our American Humane Certified program, the nation’s leading animal welfare certification effort, uses comprehensive science-based standards developed with the help of top scientists and ethicists to ensure that farm animals are raised and handled compassionately.

Working with an independent and mainstream humane group allows companies to implement more ethical sourcing practices, an outcome aligned with the preferences of values-driven consumers: More than 90 percent of U.S. customers are “very concerned” about farm animal welfare.

Leaders in the food-service industry — including Caribou, Einstein and Peet’s — are proactively embracing this consumer demand for demonstrably humane practices. Other companies ought to emulate the ethical stewardship exemplified by these good eggs.

Dr. Robin Ganzert, Washington, D.C.

The writer is president and CEO at the American Humane Association.

 

DRUGS AND AUTISM

Doctor’s defense aside, profit motive makes me suspicious

In a Dec. 22 counterpoint (“Don’t be misled by autism-drug reporting”), Dr. Elizabeth M. LaRusso defends the makers and prescribers of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs that have been linked to autism. But nowhere in the column does she mention that money and fantastic profits played a prominent role in the development of these drugs. And she fails to mention the class-action lawsuit against Pfizer.

In fact, many studies have linked Zoloft and birth defects, and more than 300 Zoloft lawsuits have been filed. Many women accuse Pfizer of putting corporate profits above public safety by failing to warn about the risk of birth defects.

In fact, medicine and profits arise from opposing values. The for-profit corporate drugmakers are motivated to push new drugs on the market before their benefits and liabilities are fully known. And medicine is supposed to do no harm.

Mark R. Jacobson, Richville, Minn.

 

RURAL-URBAN DIVIDE

One fix: Repurposed rail?

A recent letter about the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s series on a rural-urban divide in Minnesota suggests improving the transportation connection by paying for high-speed rail. In one part of Minnesota, this could be very affordable, although perhaps not high-speed. There is a large rail yard in Willmar; stations exist in virtually every small town between there and Minneapolis, and there is a population on either end and in between that would benefit from a commuter system. All that needs to be added is the political will to create it — and a few passenger cars. Talk about cheap? Think about it a bit, and it will become an obvious solution to a large part of the problem.

Fred Rau, Litchfield, Minn.